Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Early video footage...

Dave McCraw has put some of the initial bits of video footage up onto YouTube.  It can be seen here:
& here:

Both are of Dave piloting the Milan & were filmed by David Gardiner.  They are short, but give a great sense of how the Milan looks on the road, as well as how fast it can go!
Originals can be found here & here

Monday, 29 October 2012

Commuting after dark

On Sunday morning, the clocks went back; which means many fewer concious hours in daylight for the next few months.  My next evening commute in daylight will be be Feb/March time & from the back end of November, I'll have six weeks of commuting in the morning in darkness.
When working office hours, the first commute in the dark comes as a shock since it'd been light until six on Friday & today it was getting  dark as I was leaving work.  & the first nigh-time commute of the season is always a little anxiety provoking; especially with a new bike.  I also had the opportunity to try the lights in anger for the first time, as well as to see whether traffic reacted differently.
The opening 2km were a huge traffic jam that took me nearly 20 minutes to clear (I really don't want to filter just now).  Whilst that was annoying, it was a good opportunity to test how well I was being seen.  The answer was, as ever in the VM, far too well.  As the road opened out, I held primary at 40 ish km/h & traffic held back & passed wide when it did go past.  So I was either far more visible than I normally am on the road, or it was magic...  Despite the comments of someone who is clearly a risk to bollards, children and prams (NSFW language used in link, be warned!), I'm going to guess that it was the former.  I have never had road room like I did today.  OK, it helps that I'm holding a bit more speed, but even so.  Tonight, on a bit of dual carriageway, a driver slowed and flashed me out having noticed the roadworks in my lane.  Said driver can only have had me in his eyeline for less than 2 seconds &, as he passed, I saw that it was a black cab driver: not your stereotypical cycle-concious driver.  (Chapeau, sir, if you are reading this, that was a courteous & aware piece of driving).  & a bus driver picked me in his side mirror from 50+m away (I was slowing to let him out of the bus stop (partly out of politeness & partly in fear that he hadn't seen me), but he didn't pick that I was slowing.  I had to actually stop for a couple of seconds before he moved.  I'm guessing he saw me, despite being in a huge vehicle with limited visibility, poor lighting for night vision & a huge number of distractions).
Night commuting by velomobile is OK, then.  It takes a chunk more concentration and I am really glad I got mirrors on both sides, but I didn't feel worried at all once I got going.  Once again, it outperforms my other machines by a good margin as a commuter.
So if you hear someone tell you that VMs or recumbents are difficult to see (or that the riders "would be better off going to Dignitas"), point them in this direction & point out that thousands of Glasgow drivers can see me incredibly clearly, even in the dark.  If you, as a driver, can't see recumbents, maybe it's time to stop driving since you appear to be in 99.9th percentile of incompetence...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Random bits and pieces

Impressionistic side by side assessment of the Milan and Fujin

At the weekend,  Dave McCraw & David of Laid Back Bikes visited.  Dave McCraw had done a sequence of pieces on his blog on the building of the Milan & he came round for a try out.  We rode together for a circular route around 10km with me on the Fujin and Dave in the Milan with David on a Nazca Fuego, whilst Dave got used to the handling of the Milan.  He then took it for 2*10km circuits of a local piece of quiet dual carriageway and managed some impressive speeds.  I'll leave the writing of that up to him, however, it is worth reflecting on how the machines compared whilst ridden side by side.
  • The Fujin feels so much faster being open and unfaired with the wind in your face etc.  It is, however, incredibly slow in comparison.  To be fair, the Milan had a far better engine fitted, but then Dave was backing off whilst acclimatising too.  I could easily put 100m into the Milan starting from standing, but this was gained back very quickly once speeds got up.  On the one occasion that I was trying to catch Dave, I'm fairly sure he was soft pedalling, but catching him was amazingly difficult.  This was on a 2% uphill.  Inside, it's not that dramatic (well, it's incredibly loud, but it doesn't feel that fast), but from outside, it looks like it's shifting.
  • The Milan can climb gentle inclines with no bother, as well as short, sharp ones.  Dave dropped me on every hill, despite being in a machine weighing 22kg more.  I would need a long, >5% drag to drop him.
  • The Milan doesn't really compare to a bike at all.  It was fascinating riding the Fujin after having done decent mileage exclusively in the Milan.  One can compare speed versus power input, turning circle and aerodynamics on paper, but they feel like two different types of machines.  They feel more different than an upright and a 'bent do.  Velomobiles are genuinely their own class of vehicle.  I love both, don't get me wrong, but trying to compare the two is simply not possible in terms of the experience they provide.
  • Kudos to David for staying close to the Milan on it's first 10km dual carriageway circuit in order to get photos.  There are some really good shots on his Flickr photostream.
  • David has some video on facebook.  There may be more to follow; watch this space.

 Extra Long Commutes

Coming home from work today, I passed "Road ahead closed" sign at a junction made complex by traffic not being sure whether it was passing or not.  My attention was on the road, so I didn't really process the sign.  Which was a pain.  1km further on, the road was closed (surprisingly!).  Closing 400m of road necessitated a 5km detour over some very lumpy roads including going back 1km on myself (I could have made this shorter, but didn't fancy the huge, fast motorway junction & 500m of road that's treated as a motorway slipway (it was actually motorway until about 18 months ago & folk haven't yet forgotten)).  I had my phone running as a bike computer today (I was running Move! Bike Computer), so have some hard stats.  The gross average was 22.5km/h.  I was stopped for a good 5 or more minutes out of 40.  The net (of stopping) average doesn't really work when there are so many stops (the second half of the first mile is solid traffic & there are more than 20 sets of traffic lights) since the acceleration and deceleration count into the average.  Given that the detour had an extra 90m of climbing and the that home is 60m higher than bike parking, In addition, I was running into a 24km/h headwind for most of the route.  Whilst this has a smaller effect on the VM than on a bike, you can still feel it quite clearly.
What was interesting about the detour was an open downhill and piloting the Milan through a moderate crosswind.  Unfortunately, these occurred at the same point.  64km/h in a crosswind is scary.  Actually, 64km/h is scary to handle the Milan at (it gets super light steering & needs handled really gently), when you throw in a sudden crosswind as the shelter goes for 150m, it requires concentration.  Fortunately, there was no traffic in either direction, so I just had to try to stay vaguely on my side of the road & avoid the kerbs, so it could have been worse.  I might try to avoid another co-occurrence of those two in future until I have worked both out pretty well.
I hate that bit of road in the wind: last time I did it with 30km/h wind on an upright, my maximum safe speed was about 15km/h, so the Milan is better, but I need some time on the flat in cross winds before I try that road again when it's breezy....
The other interesting random fact today was that the winching speed uphill (I don't mean that in a Glasgow/Vale of Leven way...) of the Milan is 10km/h.  Not a bad speed to be able to hold on 5-8% hills in a 30kg machine when out of shape: still a lot faster than walking!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Commuting ^2

You know that it's been a good ride when you try to stand up after a wee sit down after getting home and your legs buckle and threaten not to make it.  My commute is about 8 miles, so it's pretty good good time trialling practice.
Going in today, I hardly felt it in my legs.  Coming home, I stopped off at my LBS, so had a bit of a fankly route home through Glasgow & an extra 20m or so of climbing from riding right down to the river.  Riding a velomobile through a city centre is fascinating.  People treat you like a bike/car; randomly assigning attributes from each.  The main thing that is apparent is that, given I'm enclosed, folk assume that I can't hear them.  I heard numerous conversations about me from 2-3m away, with folk clearly oblivious to the fact I might be able to hear.  The one person who decided to address me leant sideways to get face to face with his face about 30cm from mine.  That was clearly the only way he could get eye contact....
Still, folk are generally positive, so it's not all bad & I like to think that I'm doing my bit for promoting cycling in general.  I just wish that cameras in phones were less ubiquitous.  Or that folk would ask before taking photos.

The VM is getting more familiar, as is how to undertake the route in it.  I'm also doing that super fast recovery of fitness thing you do when you start back doing something, so am getting appreciably stronger too.  (The rate of improvement nosedives frustratingly quickly, but the first few weeks are always fun).
So times are coming down....  I still refuse to use the GPS bike computer on my phone 'cos I'm not yet ready to deal with the distraction, but I got a couple of looks at my watch over the lightly trafficked section of the commute.  Slightly different route each way, but there are 11 traffic-lit junctions, 6 pedestrian crossings and 1 roundabout each way.  2 right turns on the way in & 1 on the way home without lights.  The timed section is 5.3 miles.
The way in's profile looks like this:
 41 vertical metres of climbing and 83 of descending.

The way home:
86 vertical metres of climbing and 41 of descending.  6% is the toughest gradient either way.  The big hill is 3 * 5% ramps.  (Images are from Track Logs software, which I use & like lots)
So way in over this section was 15 minutes and 20 minutes coming home.  (That's +/- a minute or two since it was timed by looking at my watch rather than with a stopwatch or anything exact).  Still, a 21.2mph overall average in the above conditions for the easy section & 15.9mph on the way home is pretty impressive.  Traffic was heavier coming home, so you can't draw an exact comparison.  But still, an out-of shape cyclist shouldn't be able to do these times.  I can't wait 'til I'm properly fit & can climb properly....

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Commuting by Velomobile

I've been feeling pretty anxious about taking the VM into Glasgow at rush hour and have been collecting reasons why it might not be wise, but decided last night to bite the bullet and ride in to work...
Didn't feel too good about it this morning, but fronted up (with a short panic when I couldn't find my suit carrier) & hell I'm glad I did...
Whilst VM's have many uses, dense urban environments are probably not at the top of the list, especially at rush hour!  But this is prob the best commuting bike I've used:  huge luggage capacity (I've never been able to take a suit carrier on a bike before and was also carrying my Timbuk2 bag, 2 pairs of shoes (don't ask), a huge d-lock with cable addition and a waterproof.  I prob could have taken more, but would have had to pack carefully.  Certainly better than the 7 litres of space I have on the Fujin!  The other thing is that you worry less about weight when the bike weighs nearly 30kg: what's another 5-10kg?  I bought a mini d-lock for the Fujin to reduce weight 'cos I worry about these things on a light bike.  I bought an extra big one for the VM.  Add in the amazing being-visible-ness and this is pretty close to perfect....  Oh & the speed, can't forget the speed...

I have commuted this route a fair amount on both the trike and the Fujin.  The route is rolling for the first half, then a big hill (down hill on the way in, up on the way home), then some dense traffic and big lumps.  Going in today was the fastest I've ever done it, despite being the least fit I've been on this commute.  Home was a different ball park: the hill slowed me somewhat.  I was still faster than the trike's fastest time & not too far from the Fujin's.  This is compared to being fitter on the other machines and filtering on them (I refused to today: I didn't want to get into advanced manoeuvres whilst still familiarising myself with the machine), so there was a time penalty in both.

Traffic behaves differently around the VM compared to both upright and 'bent bikes.  Not worryingly so, but worth noting.  Dual mirrors are great though.  Cyclists were odd though.  The road cyclist who decided to race me was a pain since he sat in a blind spot (I have three for a bike: behind and to the left, directly behind and behind and to the right; each are very small, but big enough to accommodate a road bike).  I had no idea which of these he was in until he decided to overtake.  (If you decide to race a VM, you can feel terribly proud of yourself if you overtake a very out of shape rider going uphill by paralysing them in a dangerous position since they can't see you and don't want to move in or out in case they hit you and can't accelerate 'cos they are checking mirrors and windows to try to see where you are.  Good thing neither of us got injured, but you got past me for 30m, so it was prob worth it, right?  & can you overtake on the right next time?  You know, like in the Highway Code?)  When the road went down, the VM came into its own though...

I wanted the Milan as a distance bike, but it's a really good commuter too.
*best commute ever*

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Milan internal pics

 Bokeh view of DD gear changer
 Milan Mk 2 #43 & the (hopefully) not-explodey idler
 Left control stick with DD gear changer
 Indicator switch
Internal view with much carbon loveliness

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Milan First Ride Report

I picked up my Milan on Sunday & rode it home on what should have been a fairly straight, flat 75km route, but managed to take a different route and did closer to 100km through some very hilly country.  This was a really stupid mistake, but a good way of testing limits (although, I got far closer to mine than to those of the Milan).
First, some details:
It is a carbon Milan Mk2.  Specced with a twin chainring up front, a 9 speed 11-32t cassette and a Dual Drive hub.  It has the race wheels, hub brakes and the indicator/brakelight kit.  There are two B&M Cyo lights up front.  Internally, it has "Panzer steering" since I couldn't get on with tiller steering when I test rode a few VMs.  Gear changing is handled by two grip shifts with the DD controlled by a three speed box on the left control stick.  Left and right brakes are controlled by independent lever on the corresponding control stick and the lights and indicators are on two and three way rocker switches at the top of the sticks.  So everything is immediately at hand.  I had phone working as sat nav/bike computer mounted on a sticky pad on the RHS wheel arch.  This is only partially visible, so will need moved at some point when I work out where to put it.
There are two Conti GP4 tyres with slimed inners up front and a Schwalbe Marathon Supreme (my favourite ever tyre) at the rear.  Marathon Supremes don't fit up front, so had limited choice.
I started out in a huge down pour, so got to try it's wet weather performance first.  Given that it lives in Glasgow, this will be its natural environment, so it was prob fitting that this was the start of the ride.   My first surprise was how water-proof it isn't.  I guess I was expecting car levels of weather protection, rather than hugely-improved-on-bike levels, which is what I got.  So this was down to poor assumptions rather than a design flaw, but is worth noting.  It is very impressive how good the visibility is in heavy rain: I was a little anxious about this, but it was fine when moving.  Roundabouts in a downpour would be tougher, but you can always pop the flap forward for an unobstructed view.  I got Makrolon coated plastic, but have no idea how much impact this had since I have no comparison.
Ride-wise, it is a completely different animal at speed compared with less than 20kph.  Moving slowly, it is a pig to accelerate (which is to be expected with high mechanical resistance (from the chain routing) and the weight) and has heavy steering with almost no lock.  It isn't a lot of fun (I know this well, my route included a couple of 10% climbs with no run up, and several more 7+%ers).  At speed, however, it is a completely different experience.  Easy to maintain pace, climbs well and (scarily) responsive steering.  As would be expected, it descends fantastically.  The plan appears to be to maintain speed.  I could outclimb a stronger rider that me who was on a Nazca Fuego when I got a run up on the c2-3% slopes when I was riding accompanied, so the weight is offset by improved aerodynamics and momentum on the easier stuff.  The steeper stuff needs a bigger run up or avoided.  But you don't get one of these for climbing cols.  Well, I didn't....
This is going to be properly warm during the summer months.  It was 13°C outside when riding & I got very warm.  This'll be very much appreciated in winter, but I may drop the hood in summer!
I have 150km planned over the weekend, including some night-time stuff, so can report a bit more fully after that.  I'll get some pics up tomorrow too.